V.1-6. Likewise ye wives be in subjection to your own husbands, so that they who do not obey the word may be won without the word, through the conduct of their wives, when they see your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning is not outward, in the braiding of the hair, and the wearing of gold, or the putting on of apparel, but the hidden man of the heart, in that which is incorruptible, a meek and quiet spirit, which is, in the sight of God, of great price. For thus also did the holy women of old adorn themselves, who hoped in God and were subject to their husbands. As Sarah was obedient to Abraham and called him master, whose daughters ye are, if ye do well, and fear not of any terror.
Here St. Peter speaks especially of wives, who at that time had heathen and unbelieving husbands. And on the other hand, he speaks of believing husbands who had heathen wives; for it often occurred while the Apostles preached the Gospel among the heathen, that one was a Christian and the other not. If it then was commanded that the wife should be subject to the husband, how much more must it be so ordered now. Therefore it is the woman's duty, St. Peter would say, to be subject to her husband, although he is a heathen and unbeliever; and he gives the reason why this should be so.
V.1, 2. So that even they who believe not on the word, may be won without the word, through their wives' conduct, when they see your chaste conversation coupled with fear. That is, when a man sees that his wife proceeds and conducts herself with such propriety, then he is drawn toward obedience, and holds the state of a Christian to be one that is truly blessed. And although it is not directed to women to preach, yet should they so conduct themselves in their demeanor and conversation that they may thereby attract their husbands toward obedience: -- as we read of the mother of St. Augustine, who converted her husband, who had been a heathen, before his death, and so afterward her son Augustine. Still it is an external thing, which, as it is not to be performed in order to our justification for obedience, does not save you, for you may perhaps find an obedient wife who is yet unbelieving, but you should do it for this reason, that you may thereby benefit your husband. For thus has God ordained (Gen. iii.) when He says to the woman, |thou shalt submit thyself to thy husband, and he shall be thy master,| which is also the punishment which he has imposed on the woman. But such is (I say) the outward conduct -- that which belongs to the body, not to the spirit.
But this is a great thing, to know what works we should do to please God. By this rule are we to run, just as we see that the world runs, by the rule that it has falsely devised. It is a high, noble blessing which a wife may have when she so conducts herself as to be subject to her husband, inasmuch as she is saved, and her works please God; what can be a happier experience? Therefore whoever wishes to be a christian wife is to reason after this manner: I will not pay regard as to what sort of a husband I have, whether he be a heathen or a Jew, righteous or wicked; but to this I will pay regard, to the fact that God has placed me in the marriage state, and I will be subject and obedient to my husband. Then all her works are precious if she stands in such obedience.
But where the influence of attraction is not employed, nothing else will avail: -- for you never will succeed by blows in making a wife pious and submissive. If you strike one devil out you will strike two devils in, as they say. Oh! if people who are in the marriage state knew this, how uprightly would they walk; but no one does cheerfully what God has commanded, but all run after that which men have invented. This command God has wished to be so carefully observed, that he authorized husbands to make void the vows which their wives made if they were displeasing to them, as we read in Num. xxx., so that all might go on peacefully and quietly at home. This is one point. Now the Apostle directs further how a woman should conduct herself toward other people.
V.3, 4. Whose adorning, let it not be outward, in braiding of the hair, and wearing of gold, and putting on of apparel, but of the hidden man of the heart, in that which is incorruptible, a meek and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is precious. This treasure, which is internal, should be possessed not only by the wife, but by the husband. But here possibly some one might ask whether that which St. Peter here says of ornament is commanded or not. We read of Esther, that she wore a golden crown and precious ornaments, decking herself as a queen. So also of Judith. But near by it is recorded, that she despised the ornament and wore it from necessity. So that we say this much, that a woman should be so disposed as not to care for this adorning; yet, inasmuch as people convinced on the subject of ornament, cease not from the use of it, such is their habit and nature, -- a christian wife should despise it. But if the husband requires it, or there is a reasonable cause for her adorning herself, it may well be done. But in such a way should she be adorned, as St. Peter here says, as to be inwardly attired in a meek and quiet spirit. You are vainly enough adorned when you are adorned for your husband; Christ will not suffer it that you should be adorned to please others, and that you should be called a vain harlot. Therefore you are to see to it, that you wear about in your heart the hidden treasure and precious adorning, in that which is incorruptible, as St. Peter says, and lead a pure, merciful, temperate life.
[Footnote 1: |Here the Apostle pulls off from christian women their vain outside ornaments; but is not this a wrong to spoil all their dressing and fineness? No; he doth this only to send them to a better wardrobe: there is much profit in the change.| -- Leighton on I. Peter.]
It is good evidence that there is not much of the spirit there, where so much is expended on ornaments, but this will be trodden under foot where faith and the spirit are present, and these will say, like Queen Esther, |Lord, thou knowest that I regard with aversion the crown which I wear on my head, and that I am compelled thus to adorn myself. If this was not required to be done of me out of love to my king, I would much rather trample it under foot.| Where the wife is of such a disposition, she will so much the more please her husband. Therefore they are to take this into consideration (says St. Peter), that they adorn the inward man, where there is to be a quiet spirit, one that cannot be ruffled; not only that they do not run into excess, so that they may be kept from confusion and shame, but, his meaning is, that they should beware that the soul remain unruffled, and in the true faith, and that this be not forsaken. Thus is derived a heart such as does not break forth and busy itself as to how it shall appear before the world. Such a heart is a precious thing in the sight of God. If a woman were to adorn herself with pure gold, precious stones and pearls, even to her feet, it would be exceedingly splendid. But you cannot attach so much to a woman that it shall be preferable to that superior ornament of the soul which is precious in God's sight. Gold and fine stones are precious in the world's esteem, but before God they are an ill-savor. But she is truly and nobly adorned in the sight of God, who goes forth with a meek and quiet spirit; and since God himself accounts it precious, it must be a noble thing. A christian soul has all that Christ has, for faith, as we have said, brings us all the blessings of Christ in common. This is a great and precious treasure, and such an ornament as none can sufficiently prize. God himself makes much account of it. Thus the husband should withdraw and dissuade the wife from ornament, so long as she is inclined to it. When a christian wife gives ear and reflects, and determines thus, |I will not care for ornament, since God does not regard it, -- but if I must wear it, I will do it to please my husband,| then is she truly adorned and attired in spirit. Hereupon St. Peter now gives us an example of holy women, that he may draw wives to a christian conduct, and says:
V.5. For after this manner did holy women of old time adorn themselves, who set their hope on God and were subject to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him lord. As these women adorned themselves, he would say, so do ye also, as Sarah was obedient to her husband Abraham, and called him her lord. So Scripture speaks, Gen. xviii., where the Angel came to Abraham and said, Within a year shall Sarah have a son; then she laughed and spoke thus: |Now that I am old, and my Lord is old also, shall I yet have pleasure?| This passage St. Peter has justly noticed and adduced in this place; for she would not have called Abraham thus her lord if she had not been subject to him and had him before her eyes. Therefore, he says, further:
V.6. Whose daughters ye are, if ye do well and stand in fear of no terror. What does he mean by that? This is what he means. It is usually the nature of women to be troubled and frightened about everything, since they are so much occupied with charms and superstition, while one teaches the other, that it is not to be told what illusions they have. This should not be the case with a christian woman, but she should go forward securely, yet not be so superstitious, and run about here and there -- pronounce here a blessing, there a blessing -- inasmuch as it concerns her to let God direct; and she is to remember it cannot go ill with her, for as long as she knows her condition, that her state is pleasing to God, what will she then have to fear? Though your child die, though you are sick, it is well if it pleases God; if you are in a state which pleases God, what better can you desire? This, then, is what is preached to wives. Now follows the duty of husbands:
V.7. Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to reason, giving honor to the wife as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers be not hindered.
The woman is also God's instrument or vessel, he says, for God uses her to this end, that she may bear children, give them birth and nourishment, and watch over them, and rule the household. Such work is the wife to do. So that she is God's instrument and vessel, which He has created and instructed to this end. For this reason is the husband to respect his wife. Therefore, St. Peter says, Ye husbands, dwell with your wives according to reason, not that ye are to rule over them with a headstrong will. They are, indeed, to obey the law of the husband; what he bids and commands, that is to be done; but he is also to see to it that he walks soberly and according to reason with his wife, so as to give her that respect and honor which belongs to her as God's weaker vessel.
The husband is also God's instrument, but he is stronger, while the wife is weaker bodily, as well as timid and more easily dispirited; therefore, you are so to conduct and walk in respect to her, that she may be able to bear it. You must proceed in this case just as with other instruments wherewith you labor; just as when you would have a good sickle, you must not hack upon the stone with it. On this subject no rule can be laid down. God leaves the matter to each individually, that he shall treat his wife in accordance with reason, according to the circumstances of each woman: for you are not to use the authority which you have, according to your own will, for you are her husband for this very purpose, that you may help to guide and support her, -- not that you should destroy her. Hence none can lay you down a rule with exact limitations; you must understand yourself how you are to proceed in accordance with reason.
Thus we have now heard in regard to husbands, also, what good works those who please God are to perform, -- namely, that they dwell with their wives, endear themselves to them, and walk soberly with them. Things cannot always go on as you would be glad to have them. Therefore do you see to it that you act like a husband, and have so much the more discretion, when it is lacking in the wife, while you are to connive at some matters, tolerate and pardon some things, and give to the wife, also, her honor.
[Footnote 2: |Not disclosing the weaknesses of the wife to others, nor observing them too narrowly himself, but hiding them both from others, and his own eyes, by love: not seeing them further than love itself requires.| -- Leighton.]
This honor has been explained, I hardly know how. Some have interpreted it thus: that the husband should procure food, drink, and clothing for the wife, and should nourish her. Some have referred it to marriage duties. I hold this to be the meaning, as I have said, that the husband should treat the wife as consists with her being a Christian, and a vessel or instrument of God. And thus they are both to conduct: the wife is to hold the husband in honor, and on the other hand also the husband is to give to the wife her honor. If matters were thus directed, they would go on harmoniously, in peace and love. Yet where this course is wanting, there will be more disgust in the marriage state. Hence it comes to pass, when man and wife take one another from nothing but lust, and imagine they will have happiness and the gratification of appetite, that they experience mere heart-anguish. But if you have a regard to God's work and will, then may you live christianly in marriage, -- not like the heathen, who know not what God requires.
As heirs together of the grace of life. The husband is not to dwell on this, that the wife is weak and fragile, but on this, that she also is baptized, and has the same that he has, -- all blessings in Christ. For inwardly we are all alike, and there is no difference between man and woman, but as to the outward condition, it is God's pleasure that the husband rule, and the wife be subject to him.
That your prayers be not hindered. What does St. Peter mean by that? This is his meaning; if you do not act in accordance with reason, but will find fault, and murmur, and proceed arbitrarily, and in this give occasion for error, so that neither can overlook another's fault, and take all for the best, then will you be unable to pray, and say, |Father, forgive us our sins as we forgive.| By prayer we are to strive against the devil, therefore we must be subject one to another. These are the truly precious good works which we are to do. If this is preached and understood, we shall all have our homes full of good deeds. -- Thus we have heard how a Christian should conduct himself in all varieties of condition, but especially in his relations to others. It follows now, further, how we all, in common one with another, should lead, as to our outward condition, a christian life.
V.8-12. Finally, be ye all like-minded, have compassion one of another, be compassionate, affectionate as brethren, heartily kind, courteous. Render not evil for evil, or railing for railing, but on the contrary, blessing; and know, that ye are hereunto called, that ye should inherit the blessing. For whoso loveth life and would see prosperity, let him refrain his tongue, that it speak not evil, and his lips that they bear no guile. Turn thyself from evil and do good, seek out peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord behold the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
All this is said only to this end, that we should have mutual love one to another. For here that which the Scripture sometimes expresses in few words, is much enlarged upon. St. Peter would say, the summa summarum as to how you are to treat one another in your outward conduct is, that ye be like-minded. This matter the Apostles Peter and Paul often bring forward, and this much is said, that we all should have one mind, one spirit, one thought; what seems to one right and good, let this also seem to another right and good. It is an important, note-worthy matter, that should be well understood; St. Paul has spoken much particularly upon it.
We cannot all of us do the same kind of work, but every one must labor each for himself, -- a husband in a different sphere from the wife, a servant in a different sphere from the master, and so throughout. And it is a foolish thing to preach that we should all do one work, as those senseless preachers have done who preach the legends of the saints, -- that these saints have done that work, those, another, and then insist and say we should do the same.
It is doubtless true that Abraham did a good work, highly to be esteemed, when he offered up his son, since this was particularly commanded him of God. When the heathen did the same and would sacrifice their children likewise, this was an act of cruelty in the sight of God. So, also, King Solomon did well in building the temple, and God justly rewarded him for it. And our blind fools, now, would also do the same, and preach that we must build churches and temples for God, while God has given us no command on the subject. So it now comes to pass, that men busy themselves with a single kind of employment, and have many views in it directly in opposition to the Gospel.
[Footnote 3: Luther here doubtless refers to what he regarded as the foolish project of the Pope in attempting to build the church of St. Peter, at Rome, -- the project which sent Tetzel into Germany, and made the sale of indulgences so common and obnoxious. -- [Trans.]]
But this is what should be taught, that there should be a single aim and many employments, one heart and many hands: all should not follow one business, but every one should attend to his own; otherwise there will not remain unity of aim and heart. As to what is external, it must be permitted to remain of a manifold character, so that every one abide in that which has been committed to him, and the work that he has in hand. This is a true doctrine, and it is exceedingly necessary that it should be well understood; for the devil expends his care particularly on this, and has brought things into such a state, that judgment is passed on the employment, and every one thinks that his own should be counted better than another's; hence it has come to pass, that men are so disunited one with another, monks against priests, one Order against another, for every one has wished to do the best work: thus they must satisfy themselves, and they have given themselves up to the Order, and think this Order is better than that. There is that of the Augustines against that of the Preaching Monks, that of the Carthusians against the Barefooted Friars, and nowhere is there greater want of unanimity than among the Orders.
But if it has been taught that, in the sight of God, no employment is better than another, but that through faith all are alike, -- then will all hearts remain united, and we are all alike mutually disposed, and shall also say, -- the Order, or the mode of life which the bishop leads, is in God's sight no more accounted of than that which a poor man leads; the mode of life which the nun leads is no better than that which a married woman leads; and the same in respect to all varieties of condition.
But this they will not hear to, but every one maintains his own for the best, and says, Ah! how much better and more important is my state, in the Order, than the state of a common man.
Thus to have one aim is, that every one should regard his own employment like the others, and that the condition of the married woman is just as good as that of the virgin, as all are indeed alike in the sight of God, who judges according to the heart and faith, not by the person or according to the works; so that we, also, are to judge as God judges, and then are we of one mind, and unanimity remains in the world, and hearts remain unestranged, so that there is no deriding on account of the external condition; all this I hold to be excellent, and am well satisfied with every man's employment, whatever it be, if it only be not sinful in itself.
Of this St. Paul also speaks, 2 Cor. xi., |I fear lest as the serpent beguiled Eve, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ Jesus,| -- that is, lest the devil so beguile you, and pervert and divide that simplicity of aim which you have. So, Phil. iv., |The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.| Why does the Apostle lay so much stress on the aim of the mind? Because it all consists in this, that when I am brought to cherish a false aim, everything is already lost; as in case I am a monk, and have adopted such a view as that my works are of more worth in the sight of God than others, and say, |God be thanked that I have become a monk; my state is now far preferable to the common one of marriage:| in which case, from such a view there must spring a proud spirit, and it cannot fail that I should count myself more righteous than another, and should despise other people while I deceive myself. For a married woman, if she abides in faith, is better in the sight of God than I am with the Order I belong to. So that when this is understood, that faith brings with it all that a Christian ought to have, we all of us have one aim and view, and there is no difference among works.
Wherefore we are thus to understand this passage of St. Peter, that he means the aim of the soul, -- not that which refers to outward matters, -- and an internal view or plan which aspires to those things that are esteemed with God; so that both the doctrine and the life be one, and I hold that for excellent which you hold as excellent, -- and again, that is well-pleasing to you which is well-pleasing to me, as I have said. This sense of things is possessed by Christians, and to this view we should hold fast, that it may not be perverted, as St. Paul says; for when the devil has corrupted it, he has forced the castle of true purity, and all then is lost.
V.8. Be ye compassionate, affectionate as brethren, heartily kind, courteous. To be compassionate is, that one should make himself a sharer with another, and have a heart to feel his neighbor's necessity. When misfortune overtakes him you are not to think, -- Ah! it is right, it is no more than he should have, he has well deserved it. Where there is love, it identifies itself with its neighbor; and when it goes ill with him, the heart feels it as though it were its own experience. But to be brotherly (affectionate as brethren) is this much, that one should regard another as his own brother. This certainly may be easily understood, for nature itself teaches it; by which you see what those that are truly brothers are, that they are united more heartily together than any friends even. So ought we, as Christians, to act; for we are all brethren by baptism, -- so that after baptism even father and mother are brother and sister, for I have the same blessing and inheritance that they have from Christ, through faith.
Heartily kind, -- Viscerosi. This word I cannot explain except by giving an illustration. Observe how a mother or a father act toward their child, -- as when a mother sees her child enduring anguish, her whole inward being is moved, and her heart within her body; whence is derived that mode of speech that occurs in many places in Scripture. Of this we have an example in I. Kings iii., where two women contended before King Solomon for a child, and each claimed the child. And when the king would discover which was the real mother of the child, he must appeal to nature, whereby he detects it; and he said to the two women, You say that the child is yours, while you say also that it is yours: well, then, bring hither a sword and divide the child into two parts, and give one part to this woman, and another to that. Thus he attained knowledge as to which was the real mother; and the text tells us that she was inwardly affected with anxiety for the child, and said, No! no! rather give the child whole to this woman, and let it live. Then the king pronounced his decision and said, That is the true mother; take the child and give it to her. Hence you may understand what this word heartily means.
This is what St. Peter would say: that we should conduct ourselves toward one another like those that are truly friends by blood, as with them the whole heart is moved, the life, the pulse, and all the powers; so here, also, the course should be heartily kind, and motherly, and the heart should be thoroughly penetrated. Such a disposition should one christian man bear towards another. But the standard is indeed set high; few will be found who bear such a hearty love to their neighbor, -- as when it is seen that a necessity is imposed that they should have an affection like that which a mother has for a child, -- such that it presses through the heart and through every vein. Hence you see what the monks' and nuns' state of life is; how far it is removed from such hearty love: if all they have were to be smelted together in one man, not one drop of such christian love as this would be found in it. Wherefore let us look to ourselves and be jealous over ourselves, whether we can find in ourselves such a kind of love. This is a short lesson and quick spoken, but it goes deep and spreads itself wide.
Courteous, is, that we lead outwardly a gentle, pleasing, lovely behaviour, -- not merely that we should sympathize one with another, as a father and mother for their child, but also that we should walk in love and gentleness one with another. There are some men rough and knotty, like a tree full of knots, -- so uncivil, that no one will readily have anything to do with them. Hence it happens that they are usually full of suspicion, and become soon angry; with whom none of their own choice are familiar. But there are gentle people, who interpret all for the best, and are not suspicious; do not permit themselves to be soon irritated; can at least understand something as well meant; such persons as are called Candidos. This virtue St. Paul names [Greek: chrestotes], as it is often praised by him.
[Footnote 4: |The least difficulties and scruples in a tender conscience should not be roughly encountered; they are as a knot in a silken thread, and require a gentle and wary hand to loose them.| -- Leighton.]
Now consider the Gospel, which portrays the Lord Christ so distinctly, that we may trace this virtue especially in Him: now the Pharisees assault Him, and now again, others, that they might take Him, -- yet He does not suffer Himself to become enraged. And although the Apostles often stumble, and act a foolish part here and there, He nowhere assails them with angry words, but is ever courteous, and attracts them toward Himself, so that they remained with Him cheerfully and heartily, and walked with Him. This likewise we see among kind friends and societies on earth, wherever there are two or three good friends, who have a good understanding one with another: though one acts a foolish part, the other can readily pardon him. There is represented in some measure that which St. Peter here intends, although it is not perfectly set forth, for this courteousness is to be considered obligatory upon every one individually. Hence you see the true nature of love, and how excellent a people Christians should be. The angels in heaven live with one another thus, and so should it also, in justice, be on earth; but rarely does it take place.
As St. Peter has already said, that the man servant and the maid servant, the husband and wife, should so conduct themselves that each should attend to that business of his own which he is to discharge, so would He have us all do generally, one with another. Therefore, if you would be certain and assured that you are doing an excellent deed, that is pleasing to God, set yourself in God's name in opposition to whatever has been preached in the devil's name, whereby the world walks and seeks to merit heaven. For how can you be better assured that you are acceptable with God, than when you observe, as he here says, the works which a man should do, the conduct which every one should lead, that he be compassionate, brotherly affectionate, heartily kind, courteous? In this he says nothing of those fool-works whereof we have been taught; says not, |build churches, found masses, be a priest, wear a cowl, vow chastity, &c.;| but this is his language: See to it that you be courteous. These are truly precious, golden deeds, precious stones and pearls, which are well pleasing to God.
But with this the devil cannot rest content, for he knows that thereby his interests are thrown to the ground; therefore he devises what he can to suppress such doctrine, incites monks and priests to cry out, |Do you say that our matters are nothing at all? that is for you to talk like the devil.| But reply to them then, Do you not know that there must be good works, whereof St. Peter here speaks, -- to wit, that we be brotherly affectionate, heartily kind, and courteous? if these are the best, as must be confessed, you must be false in regard to your works, if you think they are better. I am really astonished that such blindness could come upon us; for Thomas, the preaching monk, has written, and says, shamelessly, that monks and priests are in a better state than ordinary Christians. This the high schools have confirmed, and men have been Doctorated for it. After them the Pope and his multitude have gone, and have exalted those to be saints, who teach such doctrine.
Therefore understand this, as I have said, -- for Christ Himself and all His Apostles have so taught, -- if you would do the most excellent good works, and be in the best condition of life, you will find them nowhere else but in faith and love; that is the highest state of all. So that it must be an error, when they choose to say, their state is better than faith and love; for if it be better than faith, it is better than God's word, but if it be better than God's word, it is better than God Himself. Therefore Paul has truly said, that Anti-Christ should exalt himself before God. Be informed in this way so as to judge of these things; where love and friendship are wanting, there, certainly, all works are condemned and trodden under foot. Thus we see why St. Peter has so confidently expatiated on the external character of a truly christian life, as he taught us above, in a masterly manner, how the inward (spiritual) life should be ordered toward God. Wherefore this epistle is to be regarded as a truly golden epistle. Whereupon it follows, further:
V.9. Render not evil for evil, nor railing for railing, but on the other hand blessing, and know that ye are called thereunto, that ye should inherit the blessing. But this is a still further illustration of love, showing how we should act toward those that injure and persecute us. If any one does you evil -- this is his meaning -- do him good; if any one rails at and curses you, then you are to bless and wish him well; for this is an important part of love. O Lord God! what a rarity such Christians are! But why should we return good for evil? Because, says he, ye are called thereunto that ye should inherit the blessing, so that ye should suffer yourselves to be attracted towards it.
In the Scriptures we Christians are called a people of blessing, or a blessed people. For thus said God to Abraham, Gen. xii.: |In thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed.| Since God has so richly shed down this blessing upon us, in that He takes away from us all the malediction and the curse which we have derived to ourselves from our first parents, as well as that which Moses suffered to go forth upon the disobedient, so that we are now filled with blessing, we ought so to conduct ourselves that it shall be said of us, That is a blessed people. So that this is what the Apostle here means: See, God has shown you His favor, and has taken away from you the curse, and the reviling wherewith you have dishonored Him; He neither imputes nor punishes, but has bestowed upon you such rich grace and blessing, while ye were only worthy of all malediction, inasmuch as ye reviled God without intermission (for where there is unbelief the heart must ever curse God): do ye also as has been done toward you; curse not, rail not, do well, speak well, even though you are treated ill, and endure it where you are unrighteously used. Hereupon he quotes a passage out of the xxxiii. Ps., where the prophet David speaks thus:
V.10. Whoso will love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil, and his lips that they do not deceive. That is, whoever would have a pleasure and a joy in life, and would not die the death, but see good days, so that it shall go well with him, let him keep his tongue that it speak not evil, not only in respect to his friends, for that is a small virtue and a thing which even the wickedest of all may do, even snakes and vipers, -- but also, he says, maintain a kind spirit, and keep your tongue silent even against your enemies, though you are even incited thereto -- though you have cause to rail and speak evil.
Besides, keep your lips, he says, that they do not deceive. There are probably many who give good words, and say good morning to their neighbor, but they think in their heart, The devil take you. These are people who have not inherited the blessing; they are the evil fruit of an evil tree. Therefore St. Peter has introduced a passage which refers to works, even to their root, -- that is, what springs from within out of the heart. Furthermore, the passage in the prophet says:
[Footnote 5: |A guileful heart makes guileful tongue and lips. It is the workhouse where is the forge of deceits and slanders, and other evil speakings; and the tongue is only the outer shop where they are vended, and the lips the door of it. So then such ware as is made within, such and no other can be set out. That which the heart is full of, runs over by the tongue.| -- Leighton.]
V.11. Let him turn away from evil and do good, let him seek peace and pursue after it, for the eyes of the Lord behold the righteous. The world considers this as satisfaction when one man does injustice to another, that his head should be cut off. But this brings one none the nearer to peace. For no king, even, ever attained to be in peace before his enemies. The Roman empire was so powerful that it struck down all that set itself against it; still for all this it could not be preserved. Therefore this method is of no avail toward reaching peace, for though a man should prostrate and silence his foe, ten and twenty rise up again after it, till at length he is compelled to yield. But he who seeks after the true peace, and moreover would find it, let him restrain his tongue; let him turn away from evil and do good: this is a course different from that which the world pursues. To turn from evil and to do good is, that when a man hears evil words, he be able to overlook the wickedness and injustice. Seek thus after peace, so shall you find it; when your enemy has wasted his breath and done all that he can, if you hear him, but rail and rant not back, he must subdue himself by his own violence. For thus Christ also on the cross subdued his enemies, not by the sword or by violence. Therefore is it a saying, which should be written with gold, where it says, |Striking back again makes hatred, and whoever strikes back again is unjust.| Thence it must follow that not to strike back again makes peace. But how can this be? Is it then a thing not human? Certainly it does not accord with human nature; but if you in this manner suffer unjustly and do not strike back again, but let the matter go, it shall come to pass as hereafter follows:
V.12. The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry, but the face of the Lord is against those that do evil. If you do not revenge yourself and do not repay evil with evil, there is the Lord in heaven above who cannot tolerate wrong, wherefore he that does not strike back must have his right. These He beholds; their prayer reaches His ear; He is our protector and will not forget us, while if we cannot escape from His eyes, we should comfort ourselves with the thought: -- that is, this should induce a christian man to endure all injustice with patience, and not return evil. If I properly reflect, I see that the soul which does me wrong must burn forever in hell-fire. Therefore a christian heart should speak on this wise: Dear Father, since this man falls so sadly under Thy wrath and so miserably throws himself into hell-fire, I pray that Thou wouldest forgive him, and do to him even as Thou hast done toward me since Thou hast rescued me from condemnation. But how comes this? Thus: while He graciously looks down upon the righteous, He also looks angrily at the wicked, wrinkles His brow and turns it in indignation upon them; when we know then that He looks upon us graciously and upon them with disfavor, we ought to suffer ourselves to pity and mourn for them, and pray for them. Furthermore, St. Peter says:
V.13-16. And who is he that will harm you, if ye follow after that which is good. Blessed are ye if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, and be not afraid for their terror, neither be troubled, but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts. But be ready always to give an answer to every man who asks the reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear, and have a good conscience, so that they who speak of you as evil-doers may be put to shame, that they have falsely accused your good conduct in Christ.
If we follow after that which is good, -- that is, do not reward evil with evil, but are heartily kind and courteous, etc., then there is none that can injure us. For though our honor, life and property should be taken away, we are still uninjured. Hence we have a blessing that is incomparable, -- one that none can take from us. Those who persecute us have nothing but prosperity on earth, but thereafter, eternal condemnation, while we have an eternal, incorruptible good, although we lose a small temporal blessing.
V.14. Blessed are ye if ye suffer for righteousness' sake. Not only, he says, can no one injure you if ye suffer for God's sake, but blessed are ye also, and ye should rejoice that ye are to suffer, as Christ also says in the sixth of Matthew: |Happy are ye when men deride and persecute you for my sake, and speak every kind of evil against you, falsely; rejoice, and be exceeding glad.| Whoever then apprehends this, that it is the Lord speaks such things, and so tenderly speaks comfort to his heart, he stands well; but to whom this does not bring strength, it makes him sad and complaining, -- he may well remain unstrengthened.
But be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled, but sanctify God in your hearts. Here St. Peter quotes a passage from Isaiah viii., where he says: |Be not afraid of their terror, nor be frightened, but sanctify the Lord in your hearts, and let Him be your fear and your dread.| There we have a great support and reliance, whereon we may trust, assured that no one can injure us. Let the world terrify, defy and threaten as long as it will, it must have an end, but our confidence and joy shall have no end; thus we shall have no fear on account of the world, but shall be courageous, while before God we shall humble ourselves and be afraid.
But how does St. Peter mean that we should sanctify God; how can we sanctify Him; must He not sanctify us? Answer. So it is that we pray, even in the Our Father, hallowed be Thy name, that we may sanctify His name, as He Himself also sanctifies His name. Therefore it comes to this: in your hearts, says St. Peter, ye are to sanctify Him; that is, if the Lord our God appoints anything for us, be it good or evil, bring it weal or woe, be it shame or honor, prosperity or adversity, I am not only to consider it as good, but even as holy, and say, this is nothing but a precious blessing that I am unworthy of, that comes to me. So the prophet says, Ps. cxliv., |The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works.| If I give God praise in regard to such matters, and consider such doings good, holy, and excellent, then I sanctify Him in my heart. But they who scruple accounts, and complain that they are treated unjustly, and say God sleeps, and will not help the just and restrain the unjust, these dishonor Him, and account Him neither just nor holy. But whoever is a Christian, should attribute righteousness to God and unrighteousness to himself -- should account God holy and himself unholy, and say that He in all His deeds and works is holy and just; this is what he requires. So also speaks the prophet Daniel, iii.: |O Lord, in all that Thou hast done towards us, hast Thou done in accordance with right and true judgment. For we have sinned; therefore be the shame ours, but the honor and the praise Thine.| If we sing, Deo gratias, and Te Deum laudamus, and say, God be praised and blessed, when misfortune overtakes us, that is called by Peter and Isaiah a true hallowing of the Lord. But He does not by this require that you should say that he has done right and well who has injured you, for it is an entirely different judgment between God and me, and between me and thee. I may have within me anger, hatred, and wicked lusts, whereby I intend your damage, while you are yet still uninjured, and have nothing against me; but in God's sight I am unjust, -- therefore He does right if He punishes me; I have well deserved it. If he does not punish me in that case, He shows me favor, and thus is right in every way. But it does not therefore follow, that he does right who persecutes me, for I have not done injustice to him as I have done in the sight of God. If God sends the devil or wicked people upon you to punish you, He uses them to this end, that they may execute His righteousness; so wicked wretches and injustice itself become a blessing.
So we read in Ezekiel, xxix., of King Nebuchadnezzar, where God says by the prophet, |Knowest thou not that he is My servant, and has served Me?| Now, says he, |I must give him his hire, I have not paid him as yet; well, then, I will give him Egypt, and that shall be his hire.| The king had no right to the land, but God had a right to it, so that He might punish it through him; for, in order that even wicked wretches might serve Him, and eat not their bread in vain, He gives them enough, lets them serve Him even to this end, that they persecute His saints. Here reason is at fault, and thinks He does well and right when He remunerates them only here; gives them much land, and does it simply for this, to make them His executioners, and persecutors of pious Christians.
But when you endure and sanctify God, and say, Just Lord, then you do well, while He casts them into hell and punishes them because they have done wickedly, but takes you into His favor and gives you -- Eternal Salvation. Therefore let Him manage them; He will give a just reward.
Of this we have an example in holy Job, when all his cattle and all his sons were slain, and his property was taken away; when he said, |The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; as it was well pleasing to God, so has it been ordered, therefore praised be His name.| And when his wife came, deriding him, and railed at him, and said: |See! what hast thou now, abiding in thine integrity? Curse God and die:| then he answered her -- |Thou hast spoken like a foolish woman: are we to receive good at God's hands, -- why should we not also receive evil from Him, for He hath done as it hath pleased Him? God hath given, and God hath taken away,| he says; not God has given it, the devil hath taken it away, while yet it was the devil that did it. This man truly sanctified the Lord; therefore is he so highly praised and exalted of God. It follows, further:
V.15. But be always ready to give an answer to every man that asketh you, the reason of the hope that is in you. We must here acknowledge that St. Peter addressed these words to all Christians, clergy and laity, male and female, young and old, of whatever state or condition they may be. From thence it will follow that every Christian should know the ground and reason of his faith, and be able to maintain and defend it where it is necessary. But up to this time, the idea that the laity should read the Scriptures has been treated with derision. For in this matter the devil has hit on a fine measure, in tearing the Bible out of the hands of the laity, -- and this is what he has thought: |If I can keep the laity from reading the Scripture, I will then bring the priests over from the Bible to Aristotle, so that gossip they what they will, the laity must hear just what they set forth; while if the laity should read the Scripture, the priests must study it too, in order that they may not be detected and overcome.| But look you now at what St. Peter tells us all, that we should give answer and show reason for our faith. When you come to die I shall not be with you, neither will the Pope; and if you know but this one reason of your hope, and say, |I will believe as the Councils, the Pope and the Fathers believed,| then the devil will answer, |Yes! but how if they were in error?| Then will he have won, and will drag you down to hell. Therefore must we know what we believed, -- namely, what God's word is, not what the Pope and holy Fathers believe or say. For you must not put your faith at all in persons -- but on the word of God.
So when any one assaults you, and like a heretic asks why you believe that you shall be saved through faith -- here is your answer: |Because I have God's word and the clear declarations of Scripture.| As St. Paul says, |The just shall live by faith,| and St. Peter, where he speaks of Christ, the living stone, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, |Whosoever believeth on him shall not be confounded; thereon do I build, and know that the word will not deceive me.| But if you will speak like other fools, |Yes, we will hear how the council decides, and with that we will abide,| then are you lost. Wherefore you should say, |Why do I then ask what this one or that believes or decides; if they speak not the word of God, I will hear nothing of it.|
Do you say, then, it is so confusedly difficult a thing, that no one knows what he should believe, and so one must wait till it is determined what one shall hold? Answer. Then will you go to the devil the while; for if it comes to the pinch, and you should die and not know what you should believe, neither I nor any one else could help you. Therefore you must know for yourself, and turn to no one else, and cling fast to the word of God, if you would escape hell. And for such as cannot read, it is necessary that they should learn and retain some clear texts out of the Scriptures -- one or two at least, and on this ground abide firmly. As for instance that of Gen. xii., where God says to Abraham, |In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.| If you have learned that, you may stand thereon and say, |Though Pope, bishop, and all the councils stood yonder and said otherwise, yet do I declare this is God's word, that I can rely on, and that does not deceive me.| Whoever will be blessed, must be blessed through |the seed,| and whoever is blessed is ransomed from the curse -- that is, from sin, death and hell. Therefore it follows, from the text -- whoever will not be blessed through |the seed,| he must be lost. So that my works or good deeds can help nothing to my salvation.
To the same end also is the passage out of Peter, -- |Whoever believeth on this stone shall not be ashamed.| If any one now come upon you and demand a reason of your faith, reply -- |There stands the foundation which cannot fail me, and so I ask nothing beside, what Pope or bishop teach or decide.| Were they true bishops, then would they teach the ground of faith that they knew was common to all Christians. Yet they rush on and cry out, |The laity must not be suffered to read the Scriptures.|
So if any one asks you whether you will have the Pope for a head, say at once, |I will hold him for a head -- a head of wickedness and profligacy.| And for this I have a passage of St. Paul, I. Tim. iv.: |There shall come the devil's teachers forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats which God has created.| That too has the Pope forbidden, as is the case now. Therefore is he Antichrist. For what Christ commands and teaches, that he transgresses. What Christ makes free, that the Pope binds -- Christ says, it is not sin, while the Pope rejoins, it is sin.
Thus should one now learn to give a reason and answer for his faith. For though not now, yet at death will it come to pass, that the devil will come forward and say, |Why have you charged the Pope as Antichrist?| If you are not prepared and ready to show reason, then has he won. It is as much as though St. Peter had said, If ye will now be faithful, ye must henceforth endure much persecution. But in this persecution must you have a hope, and must look for Eternal life. If one asks you why you hope for it, then you must have the word of God, on which you can build.
But the sophists also have perverted the text, as though one was to convince heretics with reason, and out of the natural light of Aristotle; therefore (say they) it is here rendered in the Latin, Rationem reddere, as if St. Peter had thought it should be done with human reason. Because, say they, the Scriptures are far too inconclusive that from them we should silence heretics. The method by which (according to them) it must be shown that the faith is a right one, must agree with reason, and come forth from the brain; whereas, our faith is above reason, and subject to God alone. Therefore, if the people will not believe, then should you be silent; for you are not responsible for compelling them to hold the Scriptures as the word or book of God. It is enough that you give your reason therefrom. But if they take exceptions, and say, |You preach that one should not hold to man's doctrine, while Peter and Paul, and Christ even, were men:| when you hear people of this stamp, who are so blind and obtuse that they deny that this is God's word, or doubt of it, then be silent -- speak no more with them, and let them go -- only say, |I will give you my reasons out of Scripture. If you will believe that, it is well; if not, I will give you no others.| But do you say, |Must God's word be treated with such shame?| Leave that to God. So you see that this matter should be well apprehended, and we should know how to meet those who now rise up and present such objections. -- It follows:
With meekness and fear. That is, if you are examined and questioned of your faith, you should not answer with haughty words, and proceed in the matter with contempt and violence, as if you would tear up a tree by the roots, but with such fear and humility as if you stood before God's tribunal, and were there to give answer; for if it were now to happen that you should be examined before king and princes, and had well prepared yourself a long time therefor with replies, and thus thinking with yourself, |Deliberate, I will answer him correctly,| then shall it be a happy experience for you, -- though the devil take the sword out of your hands, and give you a blow, so that you stand in shame, and have put on your armor in vain, and he can fairly take out of your hands the reply you have carefully composed, so that it fails you even though you have it fairly in your mind, because he has beforehand tracked out your thoughts. Even this God suffers to take place, that he may subdue your pride and make you humble.
So, if you would avoid such an experience, you must stand in fear, and not rely on your own strength, but on the word and promise of Christ, Matt. x.19 -- |But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak, for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak; for it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.| It is right, when you are to answer, that you should prepare yourself well with passages out of Scripture; but beware that you do not insist thereon with a proud spirit, since God will even take the most forcible reply out of your mouth and memory, though you were previously prepared with all your replies. Therefore, fear is proper. And so, if you are summoned, then may you answer for yourself before princes and lords, and even the devil himself. Only beware that it be not the vanity of men, but the word of God.
V.16. Having a good conscience, that whereas they speak evil of you as of evil-doers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. Of this St. Paul has already spoken above. We cannot disregard it. If we will follow the Gospel, then must we be despised and condemned by the world, so that men shall hold us as contemptible rabble. But let the devil and all the world rave and rage -- let them abuse as they will, yet they shall at last be made to understand, with shame, that they have injured and defamed us, when that day shall arrive, -- as St. Peter has said above, -- in which we shall be secure, and stand up with a good conscience. These are, in every respect, suitable and forcible replies, which can comfort us and make us courageous, and yet go on circumspectly, with fear.
V.17, 18. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well-doing than for evil-doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for our sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.
It will not, then, be the case that they who shall reach heaven shall have prosperity on earth, while even those who do not arrive at heaven may not have prosperity. For that which God said to Adam is imposed on all men -- |In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat thy bread;| and to the woman: |In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children.| Since, now, adversity is imposed in common upon us all, how much more must we bear the cross if we would attain to eternal life. Therefore, he says, since God will have it so, it is better that ye suffer for well-doing. They who suffer for evil-doing have an evil conscience, and have double punishment. But Christians have only the half of it. Outwardly, they have suffering; but inwardly, comfort.
Yet has he here set a limit, -- as he also has said above, -- if a case should occur of such severity as the Donatists experienced, of whom Augustine writes, who took such a resolution that, stung by their sufferings, they committed suicide, and threw themselves into the sea.
It is not the will of God that we seek out, and even invite, calamity. Go thou on in faith and love. If the cross comes, take it up; if it comes not, seek not for it.
Therefore these modern spirits commit sin, in that they lash and beat themselves, or subject themselves to torture, and so would storm heaven.
This has Paul also forbidden, in Col. iii., where he speaks of such saints as walk in a self-chosen spirituality and humility, and spare not their body. We should also restrain the body that it do not become too wanton, yet not so as to destroy it; and we should submit to suffer if another sends suffering upon us, but not of our own choice fall therein. That will be the question: if it is God's will -- if he has appointed it -- for then it is better; while you are also more happy and fortunate that you suffer for well-doing.
V.18. Since also Christ has once suffered for us -- the just for the unjust. There St. Peter presents us, once for all, the example of our Lord, and points us evermore to Christ's sufferings, that we all of us alike should follow his example, so that he need not present a particular exemplar for the estate of every individual. For just as Christ is held forth as an example to all in the whole Church, so it is the duty of every individual in the Church, -- each for himself, of whatever state he is, -- to copy thereafter, in his whole life, as it is set before him; and he will speak after this manner: |Christ was righteous; yet, for well-doing, has suffered on our account, who were unjust; yet he sought not the cross, but waited till it was God's will that he should drink the cup; and it is He that is our pattern, whom we are to imitate.| Thus St. Peter here adduces this one example, to this end especially, that he may thus designate that by which every estate is to be instructed; and now he goes on to declare more fully the suffering of Christ.
But, more particularly, he says here, Christ has suffered once for us; that is, Christ has borne many sins upon himself, but he has not done it in such a way as to die for every individual sin; but at once, for all together, has done enough to remove the sins of all who come to Him and believe on Him -- who are now freed from death, even as He is free.
The righteous for the unrighteous, he says. As though he had said, much rather should we suffer, since we die for the righteous who had no sin. But He has died for the unrighteous, and for the sake of our sins.
That He might present us to God. This is all said to teach the peculiar end of Christ's sufferings; namely, that He died, -- not for His own sake, -- but that He might present us to God. How is that consistent: has He not offered up Himself? Answer: It is true that He has offered up Himself upon the Cross for us all who believe on Him, but at the same time He offers up us with Himself, since all they who believe on Him must suffer also with Him, and be put to death after the flesh as He was. Yet God has taught us, that they are alive in the spirit and yet dead in the flesh, as He afterwards says. But are we a sacrifice with Him? Then, as He dies, so we are to die according to the flesh; as He lives spiritually, so do we also live in the spirit.
Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit. The word flesh is common in Scripture, as is also the word spirit, and the Apostles usually present the two in contrast. The sense is this: that Christ, through His sufferings, is taken out of this life that consists in flesh and blood, as a man on earth who lives by flesh and blood, -- walks and stands, eats, drinks, sleeps, wakes, sees, hears, grasps, and feels, -- and, in brief, whatever the body does while it is sensible; to all this Christ has died. This is what St. Paul calls a natural body, -- that is, the animal life. In the flesh, not after the flesh, -- that is, in the natural functions which the body exercises, to such life is He dead: so that this life has now ceased with Him, and He is now removed to another life and quickened after the spirit, passed into a spiritual and supernatural life, that comprises in itself the whole life that Christ now has in soul and body. So that he has no more a fleshy body, but a spiritual body.
Thus shall it be with us at the last day, when spiritual life shall succeed to flesh and blood; for my body and yours will live without food and drink, -- will not procreate, nor digest, nor grow wanton, and the like, but we shall inwardly live after the spirit, -- and the body shall be purified even as the sun, and yet far brighter, while there probably will be no natural flesh and blood, no natural or corporeal labor.
This is the language of St. Paul thereon, I. Cor. xv.: |The first man Adam was made in natural life, and the last in spiritual life.| And it follows, |As we have the image of the natural man, so shall we also bear the image of the spiritual man.| From Adam we derive all our natural functions, so far as concerns our unreasoning animal nature as to the fine senses. But Christ is spiritual, -- flesh and blood not according to the outward sense; He neither sleeps nor wakes, and yet knows all things, and is present in the ends of the earth. Like Him shall we be also, for He is the first fruits, the earnest and first born (as Paul says) of the spiritual life; that is, He is the first who has risen again and entered upon a spiritual life. Thus Christ lives now after the spirit; that is, He is really man, but has a spiritual body. Therefore we should not here question how we may distinguish flesh and spirit from one another, but understand that the body and flesh are spiritual, and the spirit is in the body and with the body. For St. Peter does not say here that the Holy Spirit has raised Christ up, but he speaks more generally; as when I say the spirit, the flesh, I do not mean the Holy Spirit, but that which is within us, that which the spirit impels, and that which proceeds from the spirit. It follows, now:
V.19-21. By which same He also went and preached to the spirits in prison, who aforetime were disobedient, when the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water. Which now also saves you through baptism, which is typical by it; not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the union of a good conscience with God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has ascended to heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God, -- and angels, and principalities, and powers, are subject to Him.
This is a strange text, and a more obscure passage, perhaps, than any other in the New Testament, for I do not certainly know what St. Peter means. At first sight, the words import as though Christ had preached to the spirits, -- that is, the souls which were formerly unbelieving at the time Noah was building the ark; but that I cannot understand, I cannot even explain it. There has been no one hitherto who has explained it. Yet if any one is disposed to maintain that Christ, after that He had suffered on the Cross, descended to these souls and preached to them, I will not dispute it. It might bear such a rendering. But I am not confident that St. Peter would say this. Yet the words may well be understood in this sense, -- that our Lord, after His ascension into heaven, came and preached in spirit, yet so that His preaching was not in the body. For He speaks not with bodily voice; He does no more what pertains to the natural functions of the body. Whence it must also follow, as it seems, that inasmuch as He preached to the spirits in that same spiritual body, such preaching must also be a spiritual preaching, so that He did not go there in body and with oral preaching. The text does not require us to understand that He went down to the spirits and preached to them at the time of His death. For this is his language, by which same, -- namely, when He had been put to death in the flesh and made alive after the spirit, -- that is, when He had unclothed Himself of His fleshly existence and had passed into a spiritual being and life, just as He now is in heaven, -- thus He went and preached. Now He certainly could not have gone to hell, after He had taken to Himself such a new existence; wherefore we must understand that He has done it after His resurrection.
While the words only require that he be considered as speaking here of spiritual preaching, we may rest in this view, that St. Peter speaks of the office that Christ performs by means of external preaching. For He commanded the Apostles personally to preach the Gospel. But with the word preached He comes Himself, and is spiritually present there, and speaks and preaches to the people in their hearts; just as the Apostles speak the word orally and in body to the ears, so He preaches to the spirits that lie captive in the prison-house of the devil. So that this also should be understood spiritually, like the preaching.
But here the expression follows, to the spirits which aforetime were unbelieving, &c. We should observe, in accordance with the divine account, that in that state of existence in which Christ is at present, those who have lived aforetime and those that are living now, are alike to Him, for His control extends itself alike over dead and living: and in that life, the beginning, middle and end of the world are all in one. But here on earth it has properly a measure, so that one age passes on after another, the son succeeds the father, and so it continues. But to give an illustration: If a high wood lies before you, or you look upon it as it stretches along in length before you, you cannot well overlook it; but if it lies near before you, and you stand above it and can look down directly upon it, then you have it in full view. So it is, that here on earth we can form no conception of this life (I speak of), for it passes on (piecemeal as it were) foot by foot, to the last day. But as to God, it all stands in a moment. For with Him a thousand years are as one day, as St. Peter says, in the next Epistle. Thus the first man is just as near to Him as the last that shall be born, and He sees all at once, just as the human eye can bring together two things widely separated at a single glance. So the sense here is this, that Christ preaches no more in person, but is present with the word and preaches to spirits, spiritually, in the heart. Yet you are not to understand that He preaches in this manner to all spirits.
But to what spirits has he preached? To those who aforetime were unbelieving. This is the figure of speech which is called Synecdoche. That is, |from a part the whole| (ex parte totum), -- that is to say, not to these very spirits, but to those who are like them, and are just as unbelieving as they. Thus must we look away from this outward, to that inward life.
That is the best rendering, as I think, of those words of St. Peter; still I will not too strenuously insist upon it. This at least I can scarcely believe, that Christ descended to those souls and preached to them; while the Scripture is against it, and declares that every one, when he arrives there, must receive according as he has believed and lived. Besides, while it is uncertain what is the state of the dead, we cannot easily explain this passage as one that refers to it. But this is certain, that Christ is present and preaches in the heart, wherever a preacher of God's word speaks to the ear. Therefore may we safely draw to this conclusion: let him to whom a better understanding is manifest, follow the same.
[Footnote 6: The view generally taken by Protestant expositors of this passage is, that the preaching here referred to took place in the days of Noah, by means of himself or others who were inspired by God to teach and warn. Their interpretation would be in effect, -- |For Christ also suffered for our sins, the just for the unjust (that he might bring us to God), being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit (of God). By which Spirit also he went (formerly) and preached to the spirits (now) in prison; which were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited, in the days of Noah, (120 years,) while the ark was preparing, wherein few, -- that is, eight souls, -- were saved by or through water.|]
This is the summary of the sense which I have exhibited: Christ has ascended to heaven and preached to the spirits, -- that is, to human souls; among which human souls have been the unbelieving, as in the times of Noah.
V.20. It continues, -- when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water. Thus does St. Peter bring us into the Scriptures, that we may study therein; and gives us an illustration out of them, from the ark of Noah, and interprets this same figure. For it is pleasant to have one bring forward illustrations from such figures, as St. Paul also does when he is speaking, Gal. iv., of the two sons of Abraham, and the two women; and Christ, in John v., of the serpent which Moses had erected in the wilderness. Such comparisons, when well drawn, are delightful; wherefore St. Peter introduces this here, that we may be able to comprehend faith under a pleasing image.
But he would also tell us, that as it happened when Noah was preparing the ark, so it takes place now. As he took refuge in the ark which swam upon the waters, so, it is to be observed, must you also be saved in baptism. Just as that water swallowed up all that was then living, of man and beast, -- so baptism also swallows up all that is of the flesh and corrupt nature, and makes spiritual men. But we rest in the ark, which means the Lord Christ, or the christian Church, or the Gospel that Christ preached, or the body of Christ, on which we rest by faith, and are saved as Noah in the ark. You also perceive how the image comprises in brief what belongs to faith and to the cross, to life and death. Where there are only those that follow Christ, there is surely a christian Church, where all that springs from Adam, and whatever is evil, is removed.
V.21. The like figure whereunto, even baptism, doth now save us; not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God. But you are not kept and saved by merely washing away the filth of the flesh, that the body be clean, as was the practice of the Jews; such purification has no further value. But the answer of a good conscience toward God, -- that is, that you feel your conscience to be rightfully at peace within you, that it stands in harmony with God, and can say, |He has promised to me that which He will fulfil, for He cannot lie.| If you shall rely upon and cleave to His word, then shall you be preserved. Faith, alone, is the band whereby we shall be held; no outward work which you can do will suffice.
Through the resurrection of Christ Jesus. This St. Peter adjoins, in order to explain that faith which rests on the fact that Christ died, descended to hell, and has risen again from the dead. Had He continued subject to death, it would not have advantaged us; but since He has risen and sits at the right hand of God, and suffers this to be proclaimed to us so that we may believe on Him, we have a union with God, and a sure promise, whereby we shall be saved as Noah in the ark. Thus has St. Peter given to the ark a spiritual significance throughout, within which is not flesh and blood, but a good conscience toward God, -- and that is faith.
V.22. Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels, and authorities, and powers, being made subject unto Him. This he says for the enlightening and strengthening of our faith. For it was necessary that Christ should ascend to heaven and become Lord over all creatures and powers universally, that He may bring us thither, and make us conquerors. This is said for our consolation, that we may know that all powers, whether they be in heaven or earth, must serve and aid us, even death and the devil, -- since all must become subservient, and lie at the feet of the Lord Christ. This closes the third chapter. The fourth follows.